Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Tripod Features

For those of you who haven't committed to using a tripod regularly yet, here's some things to think about:

1) I don't know a single experienced photographer who uses a tripod with braces from the centre column to the legs, and most prevent the legs from swinging out for low work and irregular terrain and special situations.

2) likewise the use of anything but a ball head unless you are shooting large format - virtually all of us have converted over to ball heads of various designs and prices.

3) a tripod that goes to at least nipple height without the head and without raising the centre column is essential for a normal use tripod, though you may wish to compromise on a lightweight travel pod.

4) if you do a lot of stitching, you need something to level the rotation of the ball head - I use a leveller from Manfrotto on my Gitzo tripod, works really well.

5) number of sections really depends on quality of construction - lots of people decry 4 section legs but that's what I use and that extra height is sometimes very handy.

6) there are a few times that I have missed the ability to reach out horizontally, say over a wall and then shoot down, so there is definitely something to be said for the new manfrotto and other tripods that have swinging or positionable centre columns.

7) some say that you should never use a centre column becuase it isn't steady, but I have several portfolio images in which it was useful or even essential.

8) Carbon fibre is nice, but hardly essential. Wood can be good too and sure repairs a lot easier after jambing a leg in the car door. For a long time I used a Berlebach tripod with good results, though once I switched to dSLR's and a tall ballhead, it wasn't as stable beween the centre column and the head as I'd like. The swivelling centre post (essentially a ball joint with a hole in the middle for the centre post) was a great idea. I have even thought of getting a new centre column with a more solid top for the ball head. That tripod took abuse no metal or carbon fibre tripod would stand.

9) little spikes on tripod feet really don't do much for me - if the tripod isn't stiff enough to stand on ice on it's own, you have too loose a tripod. Big spikes like the Zone VI tripod used to have serve their function, but soft marshy ground isn't going to be fixed by any spike less than 10 feet long, so I don't consider spikes essential and I don't have them on my Gitzo.

10) quick release heads are nice, and for a dSLR, an L bracket is wonderful - but not cheap - Manfrotto make some nice inexpensive ball heads with quick release plates, and they don't have the problem of the camera sliding out of the plate holder because of being two instead of three dimensionally held. Mind you, my really right stuff lever release clamp has never ever let go and there's something about a clamp in which you can see from it's position that it's on - which you can't with a rotating knob. With knobs, I just get a bit paranoid and check frequently - never lost a camera yet and I do carry the 1Ds2 over my shoulder on the end of the tripod.


G Dan Mitchell said...

I'm also a fan of ball heads. (I use the Acratech ballhead.)

However, I do believe that some people use non-ball heads if they are doing stitched panoramas with more than one row, since this can make it a bit easier to do the up and down adjustment without affecting left/right tilt.


Anonymous said...

I actually find spike feet a great help on icy surfaces. It's not so much the tightness of the legs but rather the lightest nudge moving the tripod. Other than ice, though, they aren't much good.

As for ball heads, I couldn't agree more on their importance. For an economical head that's very smooth and holds extremely well, I would like to suggest the Manfrotto 488 with the Rapid Connect 4 quick release for about $110. It's, IMHO, the best ball head in that price range as well as perhaps the next level up.

Manfrotto has a few different quick release heads, but this one is by far the most sturdy and secure.

Anonymous said...

The only point I don't quite agree with is (2). Ballheads are fast and convenient, but not terribly accurate. Trying to make precise adjustments (especially if you just need to adjust on one axis) can sometimes be an exercise in frustration. I've actually been thinking I'd like to have a geared head, if I could find one that met all my criteria (heavy duty construction and Arca-Swiss compatibility being at the top of the list).

George Barr said...

Good points all people, thank you. Were I to start using large format regularly again, I'd seriously consider a geared head, and Chuck is right about a pan head for stitching, though it works a lot better if it has a leveling plate under it, else you spend your life adjusting leg length to level the top of the tripod - now that's a pain.

George Barr said...

Actually, I do remember one shoot, inside a giant culvert, with ice on the floor, and a thin layer of water on top, and a very slight slope from one end to the other, I couldn't stand still, never mind the tripod, so yes, ice sometimes can benefit from a spike. It was weird standing there, adjusting the camera, only to realize we were both drifting downstream. I now have spikes I can slip over my shoes.

Alan Rew said...

For landscape photography, I find ball heads pretty useless. I use a Manfrotto geared head, which for making fine adjustments to framing, without losing the horizontal orientation, is a joy to use. I started off with a ball head when I was a newbie to landscape work, but after attending some courses in which the course leaders, regardless of whether they used large format, medium format or SLRs, all used Manfrotto geared heads (even on Gitzo tripods) I saw the light :-)

For other purposes OTOH, e.g. macro work, a geared head is a pain, and I haven't decided yet the best head to use for this, not having done much macro work. I'm almost tempted to get a separate (e.g.Bembo) tripod for macro work.



P.S. I think the one I use is the Manfrotto 'junior geared head' which despite its name is a heavily engineered item well up to the job of 5x4 large format cameras.